The Value of the Humanities

4 mins read

We often associate being “smart” with being good at math and science, neglecting students who excel at fields in the humanities, such as History and English. But the humanities serve a valuable purpose in society, including teaching people how to think about the complex systems that define our world and our day-to-day interactions. Here’s the M-A community has to say. 

Patrick Roisen

Biology teacher Patrick Roisen double majored in Biology and Art. He initially majored in Art because he wanted to become a comic book artist. However, he added a Biology major after taking classes in the sciences to differentiate himself from other artists. 

Roisen explained that his artistic background helped with his science classes, specifically organic chemistry class, in which he had to understand molecules in three dimensions. During his art training, Roisen spent hours drawing junk. He said, “You’d have to understand what you were seeing and be able to think of  three-dimensionally of it. So, when I had to study the structure of organic molecules, it was a simple exercise for an art major. But all of the bio majors and chem majors, some of whom I was tutoring, just couldn’t understand it.” 

In addition to an aptitude for depth perception, Roisen’s art background also made him more detail-oriented. While drawing these molecules, he explained, “We had to actually pay attention to what we saw.” Additionally, his humanities classes helped him understand how scientific systems were intersections of different factors rather than the result of singular events. He said, “Yes, DNA replication happens in a certain way, but it’s under the influence of all these other factors.” 

Regarding the stereotype that logical intelligence makes someone traditionally smarter than other types of intelligence, Roisen said, “That’s silly because you can look at some very supposedly smart people who are good at technology that have made some really dumb choices. If you look at people who are really good at art, English, or history, you may not want to have them do your taxes, but the way that they are able to phrase things or the insights that they have into the human psyche are breathtaking.” 

There is a mindset, especially in the tech-driven Silicon Valley, that a STEM education is a better guarantee of a successful future. Roisen cited Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, and explained that Jobs’ greatest asset was design, which was something engineers often ignore. “He was able to look at how personal computers were being made and how people were using them. He realized that if you could focus on the design and then let engineers make it work the way you wanted it to, you could make a computer that appeals to more than just business people.”  

Roisen reiterated the importance of a well-rounded education, stating that people who are hyper-focused on particular fields are more likely to make mistakes both within their personal lives and on a broader public scale such as making mistakes with nutrition, habits, voting, and the people you interact with.

David Rosenberg

English teacher David Rosenberg majored in political science. “It taught me to really take the time to analyze a lot of different angles. I learned to listen to different opinions and ultimately come to a deeper conclusion,” he said.

To Rosenberg, the uncertainty that comes with the humanities is what makes it special. “I always say mathematics is a perfect science except for String Theory or abstract physics. Two plus two is always four—it doesn’t change, there’s no interpretation. With literature and the humanities, it’s often outside the realms of numbers and science, so it doesn’t have a definitive yes or no answer. That allows all of us to come to a deeper understanding of ideas through conversations. It’s really hard to have truthful conversations without people jumping to conclusions or having feelings hurt before they actually take the time to listen.” 

Rosenberg encourages all his students, even those who are more interested in STEM, to look at everything with a larger lens. “It really is about [asking] ‘what do you naturally gravitate to? What messages are you receiving from the people around you and the society in which you live and hear that maybe does emphasize STEM over humanity?” 

Austin Hunt

Even though AP World History is a popular course amongst sophomores, history teacher Austin Hunt said that he notices a push towards STEM at M-A. He said, “By the time junior year or senior year rolls around, there are a lot of students that prioritize AP Chemistry, AP Statistics, or AP Calculus or courses like that.” 

For Hunt, STEM focuses on subjects that are too straughtforward, “If we focus so much on narrow topics, and sometimes I think the bigger picture can get lost,” he said, “History covers everything, including the STEM history, political history, and economic history… History and some of the humanities are very good in broadening people’s understanding of the world, of themselves, and of our place in it.” 

On the opinion that STEM majors have an easier time getting a job, Hunt said, “Is the most important thing in life to have a super high-paying job? Not necessarily. You can have a perfectly nice life and be happy and healthy [with a humanities degree]. There are plenty of fields that you can go into with history and political science degrees but it’s less streamlined.” 

Even though STEM majors have more direct career path, he said, “Does [being a humanities major] mean that you’re less hireable? Or less productive or less useful as a citizen of society? No, of course not. 90% of any skill that you need to do any job you learn on the job, whereas education is a way for you to learn how to learn and learn how to become productive.”

Allison Hurley

Senior Allison Hurley is interested in social sciences and is planning on majoring in anthropology and sociology in curiosity about why and how we are the way we are. She said, “People don’t realize just how much every little thing tends to impact our daily lives and how constrained we are by the way we’ve evolved and developed.” 

Hurley described how her parents, who both work in the STEM field, pressured her to pursue a STEM major. She said, “There’s this whole thing that, ‘Oh, STEM majors make more money. STEM majors are more prolific in society and at school.’ There’s so much encouragement to take higher level STEM classes but really not that much to take high-level humanities classes just because people see STEM classes as a way to advance themselves.” She continued, “People see STEM as a more progressive subject, so people place more emphasis on it and associate higher intelligence or more opportunities with STEM.” 

Even though society often emphasizes STEM, the humanities offer comparable and unique benefits. Here are some opportunities for students who want to further explore the humanities. 

Jolene is a senior at M-A and this is her second year in journalism. She looks forward to writing more opinion pieces about controversial topics this year. In her free time, she enjoys running track and listening to music.

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